(Photo: Mehmet K. Özel)
Visual artist Meryem Bayram's playful "Autonomous Scenography" was staged this evening (on the 25th march) as a part of emwap festival in Istanbul. The venue was Moda Sahnesi.
I remember Bayram as the scenographer of the play “The room and the man” staged in the 2012-13 theater season in Istanbul. It was a very powerful production directed by Mesut Arslan. Bayram’s approach to the space (not only to the stage space but also to the auditorium) was innovative and also very exciting. Therefore, my expectation for tonight was very high, and how lucky I was, it was not a disappointment.
In "Autonomous Scenography" Bayram once more designed a very fabulous atmosphere; very different from her former work but as powerful and innovative as it was. This time she collaborated with performance artists Gaetan Bulourde and Clément Layes, sound designer Charo Calvo and visual artist Pol Matthé to develop her idea.
The most powerful and striking feature of the piece is to use a single material, sheets of cardboard, and to treat this simple material in a different way than it is commonly used. It seems that two ways were selected to treat it: folding and subtracting. Thus variety was attained with a single material.
As the acclaimed professor of scenography Bengi Bugay pointed out during Q&A session, cardboard is a very warm and intimate material with which we all more or less mingle in our childhood.
The way of treating this material on the stage was already like a game. Nevertheless, the piece was not figurative or illustrative; it did not have a significant story either.
Actually, being abstract is very courageous even on the stage of contemporary western theatre. For example; for a long time famous Belgian-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has been making similar experimentations with single and simple materials like Bayram and her collaborators did in this piece. Famous English sculptor Antony Gormley designed human-sized-boxes out of wood (“Sutra”, 2008), hollow cubes defined by their metallic borderlines (“Babel”, 2010) and thick and quadrate walls (“Puzzle”, 2012) for Cherkaoui so that he could play with them. However, every time Cherkaoui forced these abstract forms to become figurative by putting many of them together, he made a lotus flower, skyscrapers or a boat out of boxes; babel tower or a tunnel out of cubes; and temples and labyrinth out of walls.
On the contrary, Bayram and her collaborators preferred a design with a high degree of abstraction. Thus, they don’t fix the images they create; they trust the phantasy of the spectators. So, they let us travel through an endless sphere.
Bayram's inspiration for this work was her fascination for pop-up books. The visuality of the piece pronouncedly reminds us of Malevich, the Suprematists and the Construtivists. Bayram’s collaborator Layes stated that besides these references, they were also inspired by Sol LeWitt.
I noticed two spheres in the piece. One is the geometric, repetitive, mechanical, cold, distant, acute or right angled, introverted, uncommunicative, pointed and abstract sphere of choreographer-dancer Clément Layes. The other one that consisted of miscellaneous pieces is kinky, warm, soft, sinuous, communicative, extraverted, spatial, open to associations, more direct and conspicuous sphere of Gaetan Bulourde. While watching the performance, the triangles of James Siena came to my mind on the former part and the Surrealists on the latter part.
One of the significant features of the piece was the lighting design. It has the very crucial mission to interrelate two spheres, which are totally opposite of each other, concerning the movement quality of the performers, communication qualities with the audience, gesture and mimic choices, treatment of the material and the balance between abstract and figurative.
The light combines these two spheres, which could have been easily torn apart into two independent pieces, to a single whole. The light overcomes this difficult task by defining the spheres in a calm and modest way (for example in the first sphere light creates rigid but not strong spaces on the ground) by the use of simple and soft transitions instead of much stressing the characteristics of two spheres which have already been severely separated.
Visual artist Pol Matthé who made his first light design for this production stated during Q&A that he tried to combine the two spheres with a look from above; “above” in every sense of the word: both referring to the location of the control room and to a general approach.
There is also a profound sound design of the piece. As Mesut Arslan rightfully remarked during Q&A in the art of theatre music, sound and effect are three features which must be distinguished from each other, especially concerning this piece.
The sound design was not illustrative; it followed the general abstract atmosphere of the piece. A distinctive characteristic of the sound design was that in the second sphere where Gaetan Bulourde gave life to cardboards and turned them for example to animals, the sound always stepped in for a while later so that it could allow the spectator some time to percept, reflect and comment for himself/herself.
Some of the spectators stated that added sounds were too much, while some found them sufficient. Some said that these sounds triggered their imagination and strengthened the atmosphere of the piece even more. Dramaturge Ayşe Draz stated that she personally enjoyed the every now and then unheimlich (a specific German word meaning spooky, weird) atmosphere created by the sounds.
Lasting for an hour “Autonomous Scenograph” profoundly offers an exquisite atmosphere to play with for the imagination of the spectator. It’s up to the spectator to accept this invitation.